Rockets To Riches: The Rise And Rise Of Elon Musk
Forbes Africa|February - March 2021
South African-born, billionaire technology and space entrepreneur, Elon Musk, made history at the start of 2021, overtaking Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to become the richest man on Earth. While his fortune was made on this planet, his dreams to venture to the final frontier remain. FORBES AFRICA takes a look at his journey to becoming one of the world’s most celebrated innovators and one of the wealthiest men alive.
Marie Shabaya

THE MAN WHO FAMOUSLY SAID THAT HE WOULDN’T BE HAPPY UNTIL WE WERE ALL LIVING ON MARS, IS NOW ONE OF THE RICHEST MEN ON EARTH. WHILE ELON MUSK’S PLANS TO BE BURIED IN A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY REMAIN UNCHANGED, HE’S STILL GOT MUCH TO CELEBRATE IN THE HERE AND NOW.

On January 8 this year, at approximately 11.30 AM on the American East Coast, Musk, known for founding some of the world’s most progressive tech companies, along with his unrelenting space-age ambitions, made yet another historical leap.

His net worth soared by $12.5 billion, to $189.7 billion, making him, for a time, the wealthiest person on the planet, according to Forbes, who broke the news. For the first time, Amazon founder, JeffBezos, who had held the top spot for a record four years, came second with a cumulative net worth of $185 billion.

However, in a twist of fate, stock in his electric car company, Tesla, fell by 8%, denting his personal wealth by a hefty $14 billion, overnight. But like the man himself, Musk’s wealth wouldn’t be down for long.

Days later, with the swift rebound of Tesla shares by 4.7%, he wrestled the top spot from Bezos with an impressive recovery of $7.8 billion bringing his total net worth to $183.8 billion against the Amazon founder’s, marginal, but impressive, $182.4 billion.

At the time of going to press, the yo-yo action continued. Tesla’s stock volatility returned Bezos to the top spot, making him the world’s richest by just $200 million, with Musk making a close second. The game is set to continue for much of the year, but it won’t do much to change the fact that both billionaires are still over $30 billion richer than their nearest competitor; the third person on the list, French luxury tycoon, Bernard Arnault, according to Forbes estimates.

Musk’s dizzying ascent is quite an achievement given that, in 2014, he ranked 47th on the U.S. Rich List, compiled by Forbes, with his personal net worth hovering at the $9.4 billion mark, at contemporary rates.

Notwithstanding his meteoric rise, most studies of Musk begin at SpaceX, his landmark aerospace manufacturing outfit, launched in 2002 with plans to make space travel more affordable and meet its founder’s often parodied mandate to catalyze humanity’s colonization of Mars.

“I’d like to go to Mars. I suppose it depends on how old I am when I get there... But it’s not about me going to Mars. We’re developing new technologies to enable a large number of people to go to Mars and be able to develop a self-sustaining city on Mars,” he told Forbes in 2014.

Inter-planetary ambitions aside, Musk’s ideas often overshadow the story of his origins which are rooted in a very down-to-earth Pretoria suburb, a few miles north of Johannesburg, in South Africa. Born in 1971 to a Canadian mother and a South African father, it was clear that Musk was unique from the start.

“The kind of things he would come up with as a youngster was always surprising. When he was very small, he would ask me, ‘where is the whole world?’, when he was three or four. It was these sorts of questions that made me realize that he was a little different,” his father, Errol Musk, noted in a 2012 interview with FORBES AFRICA.

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